Year: 1983

Production: Sherwood Productions / MGM/UA

Director: John Badham

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin

Screenwriter: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes

Novelization (1983) by David F. Bischoff

113 minutes; Color

Teenager David (Broderick) attempts to use his computer to hack into the programs of a computer-games manufacturer. Accidentally - after a week's research from which he deduces a secret password that will give him access to the system - he breaks into WOPR, the giant Deparement of Defense computer with which the USA will, if necessary, direct the operations of WWIII. Unable to distinguish between game theory and real life, WOPR, in playing the game of Global Thermonuclear War with David, almost sets off Armageddon. The film is briskly directed, with an ingenious first hour and so engaging a narrative sweep that the gaping logical holes in its plot may become evident only at a second viewing. It is in fact silly, not least for the crudely drawn character of Falken (Wood), WOPR's creator, who thinks we all deserve to die anyway (like the dinosaurs), and appears to change his mind only because David's girlfriend (Sheedy) is cute; the metaphor of war as video game is both amusing and tritely reductive, and become an sf cliche in the 1980s. Badham is a good action director whose films often collapse into ethical confusion on any examination of their superficially liberal credentials.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

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